Aging At Record Pace, Brazil Faces Demographic Emergency

Countries like France and Spain, already known for their inhabitants' longevity, needed three times as long as Brazil to double their percentage of older population.

Elderly women take a stroll in the Santa Teresa district of Rio de Janeiro
Elderly women take a stroll in the Santa Teresa district of Rio de Janeiro
Oswaldo López


A look at Brazil's recent demographics show a population that is aging at the fastest pace in its modern history. Life expectancy for the Latin American country went from 45.5 in 1940 to 75.5 in 2015, while years lived for adults aged over 60 have increased 8.9 years (rising from 13.2 to 22.1 years). Most likely by 2050, Brazil will have around 66 million above the age over 60, living in its territory, or three times more than the 24 million today.

While demographic trends indicate an aging population worldwide, Brazil's rate is outstanding for its speed. Countries like France, the United Kingdom and Spain, which are already known for their inhabitants' longevity, needed three times as long as Brazil to double their percentage of older population. By 2040, older people are expected to constitute one-fifth of Brazil's population, up from 10% in 2010.

Among traditional reasons given for demographic changes (fertility, mortality, migration, wars, epidemics), it is the basic fall in fertility rates and rise in life expectancy that best explain the widening of the Brazilian population pyramid. The number of children per woman has dropped significantly in recent years. In 2015 the figure was 1.7, which is considerably less than the average number of children for grandmothers two generations earlier (6.3 per woman). Improving socioeconomic conditions have also allowed the mortality rate to fall in recent decades to 5.9 per 1,000 inhabitants, significantly below the 15.5/1,000 rate of the 1950s.

One of the biggest challenges of modern Brazilian history.

This rapidly aging population entails challenges, the most publicized of which is for the social security system. A relatively smaller number of contributors will reduce revenues and increase costs associated with an increasing number of beneficiaries, making the current retirement system untenable. The general deficit of the social security system is estimated to have hit an all-time high in 2016, just above 4% of the GDP, though perspectives are expected to grow much bleaker. With pensions continuing to function under current rules, spending estimates are expected to head toward 23% of GDP by 2060.

A couple relaxes at Barra de Lagoa beach on Santa Catarina Island, Brazil — Photo: Adam Jones

Since social security works as a sharing scheme, financial imbalances generated by the system are ultimately covered by the treasury, which works against efforts to balance the budget. So the main task for Brazilian legislators at the start of 2018 is to approve a provisional reform that will take the current system toward financial sustainability. It must be both fairer and lighter on fiscal accounts.

Yet redefining pension security is not the only challenge for an aging Brazil. The country needs to improve public transport, rethink healthcare services and revamp human resources training and the generation of savings and productivity.

The demographic change is among the biggest challenges of modern Brazilian history, alongside such phenomena as accelerated urbanization and the push for universal healthcare and education. The challenge is multiplied by the fact that no government targets can alter its progression. The country needs to design appropriate public policies and create institutions and infrastructures to meet the needs of a growing number of "grandparents' populating the country's cities and countryside. These are long-term challenges that require a serious and rapid response from both the political class and society as a whole.

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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